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Wednesday
Sep012010

On Risk Assessment

In 2007, the Daily Mail did a human-interest piece looking at one UK family titled  “How children lost the right to roam in four generations”.  At age eight, their child is allowed no further than the end of the block.  At the same age, his great-grandfather was allowed to wander across the town, including walking to a fishing-hole six miles away.

In 2008, Lenore Skenazy, a New York mom, wrote an editorial titled “Why I Let My 9-Year Old Ride the Subway Alone”.  She quickly acquired celebrity status as “America’s Worst Mom”, and has been fighting to defend her views ever since.

In 2010, security expert Bruce Schneier wrote the following:

At a security conference recently, the moderator asked the panel of distinguished cybersecurity leaders what their nightmare scenario was.  The answers were the predictable array of large-scale attacks: against our communications infrastructure, against the power grid, against the financial system, in combination with a physical attack.

I didn’t get to give my answer until the afternoon, which was: “My nightmare scenario is that people keep talking about their nightmare scenarios.”

[…]

Worst-case thinking means generally bad decision making for several reasons. First, it’s only half of the cost-benefit equation. Every decision has costs and benefits, risks and rewards. By speculating about what can possibly go wrong, and then acting as if that is likely to happen, worst-case thinking focuses only on the extreme but improbable risks and does a poor job at assessing outcomes.

The parental is political, too.

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